The revolution in the way we listen to music has passed another landmark, as more than 500m songs were streamed online in the UK in a single week, with Mark Ronson, Ed Sheeran and Rihanna among the most popular artists.
The 505m audio streams in the chart week ending 16 July is the first time the number of weekly streams on services such as Spotify, Deezer and Google Play has topped the half a billion mark – which is nearly double the number of songs streamed a year ago.
The boom is despite high-profile royalties disputes involving artists such as Taylor Swift, and concerns about sound quality. Neil Young has banned his back catalogue from streaming, dubbing the audio the “worst quality in the history of broadcasting”.
Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk was the most streamed song in the first half of 2015, played more than 45m times.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry and the Brit Awards, said: “It’s remarkable that we now speak of billions of audio streams per month – it demonstrates vividly just how quickly streaming is being embraced.”
With 11.5bn streams in the year to date, more than 25bn streams are forecast for the whole of 2015, up from 15bn last year. When YouTube is included, the total is expected to top 50bn.
The most streamed artist was Ed Sheeran, played more than 170m times, in a top five that also included Sam Smith, Hozier, Drake and Rihanna.
Competition in the streaming market intensified last month when Apple launched a streaming service a few months after the advent of Jay Z’s Tidal. Now Facebook is reported to be on the verge of launching its own service.
Peter Robinson, editor of music website Popjustice, said: “Half a billion is a huge psychological boundary and suggests that resistance to streaming will soon be confined to a minority, many of whom are audiophiles whose demands may well be addressed as the months and years tick by.
“It also hints at how much music people will choose to listen to if there’s no marginal cost involved in hitting play. This increase in music listening may offset at least some of the money artists, musicians and labels stand to lose as physical formats and paid downloads decline.
“It’ll be interesting to see how the public respond as more services enter the fray over the coming years and music fans have to make a choice about where to spend their monthly £9.99.”
While streaming figures have surged, it is not clear whether this will mean an increase in revenue for artists. The figures do not differentiate between paid subscribers and those using streaming services for free.
While vinyl LPs have enjoyed a surge in popularity, total sales of physical formats, the bulk of them CDs, have continued to decline, although the rate slowed in the first half of this year.
Tom Pakinkis, editor of Music Week, said: “Streaming is widely regarded as the future by much of the music industry, and the key to returning the business to health once again.
“Spotify’s last official paying subscriber count in June topped 20m – up from 15m in January. So that’s an indicator of how quickly people are discovering streaming – at least for Spotify.
“With the addition of Apple Music to the mix, there’s hope across the industry that growth will continue to accelerate and we’ll soon see streaming become a mass market proposition. Despite the decline of CDs, the UK market is still roughly 60% physical.”
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